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US-funded project draws new criticism of data on Lancang-Mekong dams

By HOU LIQIANG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-08 08:57

A view of the Mekong River bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in Nong Khai, Thailand, on Oct 29, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The Mekong Dam Monitor program, funded in part by the US State Department, was rebuked and debunked again for orchestrating the theory of Chinese dams posing so-called threats to the Lancang-Mekong region. This time, the criticism comes from the Global Critical Research Center, a US-based nonprofit organization.

Describing the organization behind the program as one that releases contents "highly politically oriented with obvious political stances", the center said the program is just "one of many chips of the United States" used to suppress China, and the program's "survey results are full of loopholes and errors".

The center's conclusions are based on a joint in-depth study by two of its departments, according to a recent release on the center's website.

The Mekong River, known as the Lancang River in China, is a vital waterway that also stretches across Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Mekong Dam Monitor project is based on satellite imagery and "digital elevation model water level extraction methods", the Global Critical Research Center said. The methods can result in large errors between survey results and the actual water level, especially for narrow reservoirs, the center quoted its editor-in-chief of the technology department, Ryuu Shiroishi, as saying.

In a post on its Facebook page, for example, the project claimed that Jinghong Dam, which is in China, had a significant flow restriction of 144 cubic kilometers in one week, Ryuu said. However, the figure is dozens of times more than the overall reservoir capacity of the entire dam and a thousand times more than the cumulative amount of water released by the 45 dams in the basin in a week, according to Ryuu.

The Mekong Dam Monitor project has acknowledged that its findings were error-prone. However, Ryuu said, its revised data was still 8 meters off from the actual water level measurement, resulting in a water volume error of about 1.2 billion cubic meters, he said.

The project is run by the Washington-based Stimson Center and supported by the Mekong-US Partnership.

Other content released by the organization is highly politically oriented and lacks objective research and analysis based on survey data, according to the Global Critical Research Center.

Rachel Blake, editor-in-chief of the center's current affairs research department, "regarded the project's activities as part of the 'public opinion war on water resources' and predicted that China's various dam projects would still be under pressure from all sides", the center said.

The function of maintaining the stable flow of the Mekong River through Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation has been "deliberately ignored", the center added. "Creating tensions, contradictions and conflicts among the Lancang and Mekong countries seem to be what the White House prefers to see," it added.

In March, researchers from Tsinghua University also pointed out serious errors in reservoir level readings released by Mekong Dam Monitor, saying these could lead to the wrong conclusion that Chinese dams have intercepted water and are causing drought downstream on the Mekong River.

The Tsinghua University team found that project data does not constantly reflect the overall trends of water availability. For example, the team said, the data reversed the actual water level rise and fall trends in the Xiaowan Reservoir in at least three monitoring periods, with errors ranging from 3 to 10 meters.

The Chinese scientists reached their conclusions by comparing Mekong Dam Monitor's data with water level readings from dam operators. Their conclusions were supported by data obtained by satellites using laser altimeters.

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